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Published on Sat, Nov 29, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Neil Young
Illustrated by the author
Blue Rider Press a member of the Penguin Group (USA) New York
383 pages, 6.25 x 9.25 inches
U.S.A $32 .00 (Canada: $37.00)
Review by Doug Stokes
I’ve not read many books that have been written by people in the music business. Maybe that’s a good thing. This one, “Special Deluxe” is subtitled “A Memoir of Life & Cars” and by gosh, it is just that. Precisely that.
In it, and in some 380 pages, author Neil Young reels off a cavalcade of cars (see below) that he has owned, driven, named, wrecked, abandoned, restored, garaged, burned to the ground, smoked or snorted (or both) in, and/or otherwise had an up-close and direct association over his last fifty-plus years—from his first car in Canada and on through every odd-rod that he ever fell (boot) heels over head in love with.
Along the way, the reader will note (pun intended) that Young’s personal and professional life all intertwine with his machines.
The chapters of this book seem to (mostly) correlate with the author’s ownership of one or more specific automobiles. They’re also presented in relative chronological order. “Relative” being the watchword here, as every once in a while Young will jump ahead to a future car in relating the virtues of the one that he had started talking about. Or he might, just as easily, hark back to a few years before the present to some other automotive infatuation.
Best to think of this time-shifting as charming, perhaps folk art-ish (as are his illustrations of the subject cars that accompany each chapter). Trying to stay fairly close to literal with Neil Young (apparently) has been a non-winnable pursuit for more than a few men and women, and it’s not recommended here. In fact, in mentioning that I was reading this book to a friend, he asked if I had read Young’s first book. I told him that I had not, and he had nothing to add…
Using segments of songs (almost exclusively his own after chapter two or three), the prolific music-maker puts his spin on each of the stories (be they about his cars, his wide-ranging personal life, or his professional career) with some apropos lines from a song (or two).
If this were a spoken book it might well sound like an episode of an All-Neil Young-All-The-Time version of A Prairie Home Companion with the dialog and music blended seamlessly into a listening experience. In written form, however, it gets a bit precious when the well of poetry is dipped into maybe a bit too often. “… See how insightful my words were here, and (oh yeah) over here.” Okay, we get it, Neil, we get it.
Early-on, and directly relatable to the time that each chapter seems to be so flexible with, Young starts calculating just how many tons of CO2 a vehicle that he was driving or riding in (something like 30 or 40 years before we knew almost anything about the subject) was putting into the atmosphere. For example, in 1954 (he was about nine years old), his family moves to Winnipeg from rural Omemee, Canada.
Relating the story of the move, Young thoughtfully indicates that the car that his folks drove on that trip (a 1954 Monarch Lucerne) “put around 1,382 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.” He does the same calculation about half a dozen more times at random throughout the book, musing back about one or another of the of giant old cars he cruised the country in, with no preamble. It’s just stated as a fact, like the weather that day, how many tons of carbon dioxide that machine spit out on a trip that took say, a pound of Panama Red to accomplish. It’s Mister Young reminding us retro-actively of what a good steward of the environment he would have been had he known then what he knows now.
For the music fan (Crazy Horse, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, etc.), there are some interesting stories of the sounds and the life of a rock star in the latter part of the twentieth century in Special Deluxe. What those tales lack in depth, they almost make up for in colorfulness. But the seriously interested will be left wanting more, just as I think the dedicated car person wants to hear more about the strange ad-mixture that Young’s serial buying of odd-ball behemoths meant on a slightly more technical basis.
At the end of the book, Young gives up another mea culpa, talking about when he was young, how he has seen “changes over the years” and that “things are not the same now. They are losing the beat. I didn’t know the damage that I was doing with my cars,” he writes. “I had my love relationship with big gas-guzzling cars for a lifetime, yet even I can see the writing on the wall.” I guess that it’s really never too late to come to a reasonable conclusion.
Sadly, there’s no index here. There is a nice three-page list of credits for each of the aforementioned excerpts from the song lyrics that are used to wistfully augment and extend the author’s text.
Reviewer’s note: (The temptation here is strong, but I’ll leave it to you to ring in some thought-worthy Neil Young lyrics to conclude this review. This will be LA Car’s first interactive book review, as the NASCAR people so poetically put it: “Have at it (readers)”.
In the end, this book is a lot like listening to a Neil Young song: interesting, often instructional, mostly melodic, sometime distant, some time right up close, and sung from the gut if not always and every time from the heart. –DS (still searching for a heart of gold).
*The List: 1959 Lincoln Continental, 1957 Eldorado Biarritz Convertible, 1948 Monarch Business Coupe, 1951 Monarch Sedan, 1954 Monarch Lucerne, 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, 1956 VW, 1956 Monarch Richelieu, Late ‘50s Triumph TR3, 1958 Standard Motors Ensign, 1948 Buick Roadmaster Flixible Hearse, 1953 Pontiac Hearse, 1954 Packard Ambulance-Hearse, 1957 Corvette, 1948 Continental, 1964 Mini Cooper S, 1934 Bentley Close-Coupled Coupe (Mulliner), 1951 Willys Jeepster, 1957 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon, 1944 Military Jeep, 1951 Jeep, Overland Pickup, 1955 Chrysler Imperial Sedan, 1953 Lincoln Coupe, Citroen Deux-Chevaux, 1950 Packard Clipper Sedan, 1948 Packard Woodie (sic) Station Wagon, 1947 Buick Roadmaster Sedanet, 1954 Cadillac Limousine, 1930 Rolls-Royce Shooting Brake, 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, 1941 Lincoln Zephyr Coupe, 1975 Dodge Power Wagon Crew Cab - Long Bed Pickup, 1941 Chrysler Highlander Coupe, 1950 Plymouth Special DeLuxe Sedan, 1950 DeSoto Suburban, Early ‘70s Citroen SM (“Maserati”), 1985 Ford Econoline Van, 1953 Buick Skylark, 1962 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron, 1959 Lincoln Continental MkV Convertible, 1948 Buick Roadmaster Flixible Hearse, 1978 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, 2004 Ford Excursion, 2000 Hummer H1, 1982 Mercedes-Benz 300CD, 1959 Lincoln Continental, and a 1951 Monarch Sedan. To purchase the hardcover book, Kindle book, Audiobook, or audio CD of "Special Deluxe" from Amazon, click here.